Sunshine, mild temperatures and light winds at Royal Liverpool Golf Club greeted players and spectators for Day One of the 47th Walker Cup Match.
The play by the Great Britain & Ireland squad was as sparkling as the weather, as the home team had their second-best performance in Saturday singles to hold a two-point advantage over the United States of America at 7-5.
Craig Watson’s side need 6.5 points from tomorrow’s foursomes and singles matches to win back the Walker Cup after losing to the USA two years ago at Los Angeles Country Club.
“It was a pretty good day," said Watson. "It could have been better but we knew the Americans were going to come back to us. We’re looking forward to tomorrow though."
Indeed, at one point during the afternoon singles, GB&I were leading in six of the eight matches. They were threatening to match or beat their best-ever performance in Walker Cup Saturday singles, a 5 1/2 - 2 1/2 result in 1995 at Royal Porthcawl. GB&I ended up winning five singles matches, with the USA coming back to win three.
"This afternoon I just could not believe the amount of putts Great Britain and Ireland made in the first 45 minutes," said USA captain Nathaniel Crosby. "An amazing amount of golf that was fantastic."
The first singles match of the day was Alex Fitzpatrick against world number one Cole Hammer, who was rested for the foursomes this morning. Fitzpatrick fell behind to an early 2-down deficit, but the 20-year-old recovered with birdies at the 4th and 6th holes to return the match to all-square and was 2-up with three holes to play after winning the 14th and 15th.
Hammer responded with a birdie at the 16th to reduce Fitzpatrick’s lead, but the Englishman extinguished any hopes of a comeback by birdieing the last to claim his second point of the first day and put GB&I 3-2 up in the match.
Euan Walker extended GB&I’s lead after beating Steven Fisk, also rested for the morning foursomes, by two holes as well. The Scot was never behind in the match and had established a comfortable lead after winning three of the first five holes.
Despite being pulled back to 1-up going down the 18th, the 23-year-old made sure of the point for Watson’s side after the American conceded the hole.
After losing his morning foursomes match, John Augenstein hit back for the Americans with a 2&1 win over Conor Purcell, making it 4-3 in the match overall. The U.S. Amateur runner-up was in control for lengthy periods of the contest and a par at the 17th was enough to record the first point of the singles for the USA.
Sandy Scott then claimed a notable scalp for GB&I, defeating U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree by one hole in a match where the Nairn golfer fired in six birdies. He found himself 2-up with three holes to play and although Ogletree won the 17th, a halve in par at the 18th gave Scott an important victory to put GB&I 5-3 up.
The away side pulled another point back after John Pak edged out Amateur champion James Sugrue, who did not feature in the morning foursomes, by one hole and then Wu defeated Sloman 4&2 to tie the match at 5-5.
With two matches left out on the course, Caolan Rafferty nudged the home side ahead with a 2&1 win over Alex Smalley and then it was left to Conor Gough to claim another point for GB&I, his second of the day, to leave Watson’s side with a two-point lead going into day two.
The two sides ended the morning foursomes level at 2-2 with each of the four matches concluding at the 17th hole and finishing in a 2&1 scoreline.
Fitzpatrick and Purcell put the first point on the board for GB&I after winning their encounter with Augenstein and Ogletree. They were 4-up after eight holes and although the Americans cut the deficit in half by winning at the 13th and 15th, the remaining holes were halved to give the home side the early breakthrough.
Scottish duo Walker and Scott started brightly against Pak and Salinda in the second foursomes match but the loss of three holes in a row from the 11th proved to be pivotal as the Americans claimed their first point of the match.
The all-English pairing of Gough and Harry Hall were never behind in their match against Akshay Bhatia and Stewart Hagestad and they won GB&I its second point of the session after remaining in control throughout the contest.
Similarly, Smalley and Brandon Wu dictated play for the USA in their match against Thomas Plumb and Tom Sloman, picking up wins on the 7th and 10th holes to go 2-up. Although they dropped a hole at the 12th, a birdie on the 15th restored their two hole lead and they never looked back to give the visiting team its second point.
Spectators were out in strong numbers today, and witnessed an impressive day of competition. Both captains were optimistic heading into the final day tomorrow.
“You know, these guys have tremendous games," said Crosby. "They've won a lot of golf tournaments to be here, and if they just play their games tomorrow, we'll see where the chips fall.”
“No matter what happens in the foursomes tomorrow, we still have to play in the singles. The boys will be up for it," added Watson.